Great Douk Cave
Everyone's Favourite First Underground Adventure
'Oooooh - I don't like confined spaces!' comes the oft-repeated cry. 'No way you'd get me in there - I'd be having kittens!' That is a shame I think as many caves have huge dimensions - and to avoid seeing them is to miss out on what makes the limestone country so special and spectacular. Maybe you are different?? Maybe you have enjoyed the showcaves of Ingleborough and White Scar and want to experience a 'wild' cave with no lights and handrails? You may have the urge to descend, but are not yet at that stage where you want to commit to join a caving club? You may be shy - and want the Yorkshire limestone to be your own little means of escape - where you can quietly reflect on life from another perspective? If so - there is no better place than Great Douk Cave: a relatively easy and safe cave passage which - let's be honest - is not only beautiful - but great fun!!
Equipment sorted, then? Just three more things to remember and these are crucial. 1) Only go underground in fine settled weather and NEVER enter caves if you have doubts. If it has been raining for a few days and water levels are high - stay out! 2) Always always always tell someone where you are going. 3) Beginner cavers are also best in groups of more than two - so if someone does fall and break a leg - they are not left alone while the third goes for help. Lecturing over for now .... let's go ......!!
Park in Chapel-le-Dale just beyond the Hill Inn. You can see it's just a short walk - half a mile or so - to the cave entrance. The walk is indicated by the blue line which in retrospect looks like a river and is not good enough for a seasoned blogger! The yellow dotted line shows the appoximate underground route which is actually a lot more twisty and turny than that and is about 900 metres long. It's a delight from beginning to end. You can go in at that main entrance - up the waterfall - and splash your way up towards Middle Washfold - or brave the entire length by going in at the 'top' and crawling to meet the main stream passage. We'll do both on this adventure - taking the easier option first. Don't want to put you off just yet.
The gigantic doline containing Great Douk Cave is very ancient. It may even date back before the last two glaciations! Formed on a fault - it has sheer sides of Great Scar Limestone plummeting into the depths, but as luck would have it, on the west side, a quaint little path winds its way down under the trees - towards the roar of a hidden waterfall.
Here it is! A single joint has been eroded by the stream beneath a massive bedding plane to create one of the classic cave entrances in Yorkshire. See that ledge up on the right with the ferns? You can either crawl along that - or brave the waterfall. Let's go the exciting way. We may as well get wet now as there is a a good drenching still to come.
Nature can be kind at times, and here she provides a step in the water. Children can be helped up onto this and the rest of the climb is easy. Just take great care as the limestone floor around the waterfall is extremely slippy.
The view out is awesome. There is a sense of being immersed in the true wildness of an active underground stream passage.
Lights on - and we begin to follow the passage ahead into a small chamber - with shallow water beneath our feet and this remarkable bridge of limestone indicating a former floor of the cave many thousands of years ago.
Suddenly daylight is glimpsed. Just as our eyes have become dark adapted, we once more pop out into daylight. This is the bottom of Little Douk Pot, and it's a delightful little garden of mosses, ferns and steam. Look up - for a fabulous view out ....
This is the view up to the sky from the base of Little Douk Pot. The limestone is completely bedecked in delicate mosses and other moisture loving plants.
Heading back into darkness, the water gets deeper and the formations more bizarre than ever as the ceiling becomes much higher.
Suddenly we are confronted by the gargoyle-like presence of the Lion Duchess. She has the body of a feline hunter - and the head of determined lady. Some say Margaret Thatcher ....
The Great Douk Organ Pipes from the upstream side.
Beyond the Beehive there are more wonderful flowstone curtains.
There are scores of cairns - and they are believed to date back to at least 2000 BC.
Keep Ingleborough in sight and head for the gateway through the wall.
In we go, then - taking great care on the slippery limestone.
Down a step in the floor .... nice and easy!
Got to be round here somewhere ...
'You'll soon be standing up ... Stephen, lad!'
Yes indeed! Whoopee! Halleluia!
How about this for a fantastic red grotto?
The passage is now big and beautiful - a luxury indeed after the tough crawl in.
Back on familiar territory - just look at that flowstone.
Dearie me - we're back at the Beehive!
Beyond the skylight of Little Douk Pot - the cave changes in nature as we head towards the main exit.
Two lovers - about to kiss goodbye?